Your verification ID is: guDlT7MCuIOFFHSbB3jPFN5QLaQ Big Computing: The Art of Beer Making and the Development of Statistics

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Art of Beer Making and the Development of Statistics

It is not a commonly known fact that beer making played a major role in the development of Statistics, but it is true. In the last 1800s and early 1900 Arthur Guinness and Sons was a very forward thinking agro-business. which hired some of the most promising students out of universities like Oxford.

In 1899 Guinness hired a young chemist and mathematician for Oxford by the name of William Sealy Gosset. Gosset would be the creator of the t-distribution which is used in Bayesian Data Analysis and the Students t-test. The Student's t-test is the common method for looking at the statistical significance of two sample means and linear regression analysis. Most of his work at Guinness was confidential because Guinness forbade its employee's from publishing any of their work for fear that they would give away trade secrets.  However, Gosset was able to persuade Guinness to permit publishing his work and others under the alias Student to hide his relationship with Guinness arguing that this research was of little use to Guinness's competitors.

Beyond Gosset himself it is amazing the relationships he had with other notable people of his time. All of Gosset's papers were published in Biometrika which was edited by Karl Pearson. Pearson also helped Gosset with the mathematics of the t-distribution. Apparently Pearson was a better chemist and theorist than a mathematician.  Albert Einstein would enlist mathematicians for the same kind of help. Pearson's contributions to statistics are also wide ranging from the Correlation Coefficient to the p-test to PCA. The first book read by Einstein's study group was Pearson's The Grammar of Science.

Gosset was also a friend of R.A. Fischer who in 2010 was named the Greatest Biologist since Darwin. R.A Fischer was not only a biologist but also an important contributor to statistical science. He is the one who recognized the importance of Gosset's work. Fischer created the term "null hypothesis" which rolls off the tongue of every classical statistician to this day. He also is known for the f-distribution, maximum likelihood and  the Fischer-Kolmogorov equation.

It is interesting to note that Gosset was friends with both Pearson and Fischer even though both men had large egos and did not like each other. Maybe back then like today a man like Gosset with a few beers can assuage the ego and befriend even the most unlikely of fellows.

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